In preparation of Sophie Utikal’s solo show at WE DEY x SPACE, Sunanda Mesquita asked Sophie Utikal, a few questions about her artistic practice and what she is expecting from exhibiting in this particular space focused on BPoC arts in Vienna. Her current series “Threads of Selves” is on view from 12th -29th of October 2017 at WE DEY x SPACE, Kandlgasse 24, 1070 Vienna.
In conversation with Sophie Utikal
S.M.: Thanks Sophie for taking your time! How would you choose to introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know anything about your art works yet?
S.U.: My work is about stitching together textile fragments into self portraits of the different landscapes and imageries I see within my body. I use very soft and harmonic colors but stitch everything together with black thread, this makes the borders seem very rough. Because my drawings do not care so much about the “right” proportions and are very simple, the images look childish, which I really like a lot. And still, my technique of sewing everything together by hand is such a difficult and also intense process. I think my images are about breaking binaries of simple/complex, soft/hard, beautiful/disturbing, superficial/deep.
S.M.: Textile art production is embedded in many indigenous communities and communities of color- can you tell us a bit more about your work process and if/how you are referring to these herstories? What made you start to work in this medium?
S.U.: Yes, this is true, the women in my mother’s family from Colombia work with textile and produce textile images that are very simple and complex at the same time. They depict scenes from the everyday life on the countryside, farm animals, trees and houses. I was always fascinated by these images and wanted to apply their storytelling to my surroundings, my body and point of enunciation. The way the borders of my textile fragments are stitched together is a very clear reference to their works. In my case though, I chose to use a black thread to emphasize every stitch I make, instead of hiding them, which would a more common method. I want to make the process and the work visible which are necessary to create these highly complex artworks which are usually called naive art in the Colombian context.
S.M.: Can you tell us more about the series “Threads of Selves”, which you are going to exhibit at WE DEY x space?
S.U.: It is a series of my bodies in different situations and moments I have experienced. You can see me in very powerful positions, flexing into all directions throwing knives towards my surroundings but also in more calm in melancholic moments, lying around in my bed on an island. On one image I am embracing another body, we flow into each other and thereby create a new body of fragmented bits and pieces. Right now I am working on a new piece for the exhibition which will show me in a position I learned for healing traumas. You lie on your back and lift your pelvis until it starts shaking by itself. This movement is very common also for some animals like rabbits, that after the moment of danger and shock has passed they start trembling all over their body to release the anxiety and fear. Humans usually do not do this, so the trauma might stay within their body forever. My images are my own way of storytelling and making my insides visible.
S.M.: You are planning a workshop named “Stitching Stories” which will focus on collective textile painting making. Can you tell us who the workshop is for and what you are imagining as a possible outcome?
S.U.: The workshop with be exclusively for Black People and People of Color. And as a possible outcome I wish to manifest ourselves into a material form, while connecting what was meant to stay separate. While stitching we will talk, relax and meditate on what it feels like to inhabit our bodies and how we navigate ourselves through our everyday life. I will provide all material necessary. There will be drinks and snacks. The workshop is for free. All skills are welcome.
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S.M.: Where & how was your work presented before and what did you like about it/ what would you want to be different this time at WE DEY x space? What are your expectations?
S.U.: Until now my work was presented in informal everyday life settings of my home or of friends. I wouldn’t mind if bigger institutions would invite me to do a solo show, since i still depend on their capital (resources, prestige, networks, cash). Still, I would not expect the audience to identify with my works or be touched on an emotional level. I am sorry to say that in Vienna the big institutions are still white ones, that also attract a white audience with their own white reality. Since my images deal with my body which is outside of the white eurocentric norms, I think the gap will be too big to feel what I feel in my works, but of course I am open for surprises and even hope that my works can create connections where there were none before.
As WE DEY is a self-organized space by black and people of color I also hope for an audience of Black and People of Color. I am the most happy when I feel understood and I really hope that this will happen with people who share some of my experiences as a Woman of Color.
S.M.: We have focused previously on the topic Self Care at WE DEY x SPACE- I would be very interested in knowing what does radical self care mean to you? Did you work before with this particular focus?
S.U.: The process of creating, feeling my body and recognizing myself in Others is what radical self care means to me. This can be writing a letter to my ass and designing free posters with a portrait of me embracing my butt and the love messages I feel for my body. This is what I did in my other work called “culo con orgullo”. Connected to this work I also did a writing workshop, where all the participants wrote love letters to one of their body parts, then we exchanged the letters and another person answered from the perspective of the addressed body part. It was a very intense, funny and healing experience for all of us.
S.M.: Thank you Sophie Utikal I am looking forward to your Vernissage this Thursday 12th of October!
Co-founder of WE DEY